Suddenly, there is light at what appeared to be endless tunnels for the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays.
When the two teams meet Monday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., they'll have more reason to be hopeful than they have at any point this season.
For a Tampa Bay pitching staff that was banged up coming out of spring training, things are looking a lot brighter than when the Rays were searching for arms.
For Detroit, a three-game sweep of Baltimore shows that, at least for the moment, this might not be a dead-end season.
Tampa Bay has used 25 different pitchers (including outfielder Brett Phillips in mop-up duty) and 10 different starters. But it's looking more and more like the Rays will finally be able to settle into a rotation without having to rely on the "opener'' concept in which the starting pitcher is expected to go just two or three innings.
That is due, in part, to an encouraging report on right-hander Shane Baz, who hasn't pitched this season after having elbow surgery. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Baz threw two innings in an extended spring training game on Saturday. Cash said reports were that Baz pitched "very well."
The Rays may have stumbled across another starter in the meantime. Making only his third start since joining the rotation, Jeffrey Springs pitched 4 2/3 innings in Sunday's 3-0 win against Toronto. Springs gave up four hits on 76 pitches.
"We're trying to get him to go longer each time to take the pressure off the bullpen,'' Cash said. "The goal was five innings and we got 4 2/3 innings from him. He's getting better with each start.''
While sweeping a Baltimore team that has struggled so far might not seem like a big deal, it meant plenty to the Tigers. Their bats came to life against the Orioles on Sunday with Miguel Cabrera hitting his 505th career home run to break a tie with Eddie Murray for 27th place all-time. Cabrera added a single and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly.
"Our guys are good hitters,'' Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said. "We haven't done well in the first month, but these guys have a track record and guys can hit. It probably helps that it's 80 degrees out and not 30 degrees.''
Weather won't be a factor at Tropicana Field, but the Tigers will have to deal with one of the best pitchers of the current era. That's Corey Kluber. Although he's 1-2 with a 4.55 ERA this season, Kluber has two Cy Young Awards.
Kluber, 36, also will be facing the Tigers for the 27th time in his career. That's more than he's faced any other team and he's 13-7 against Detroit.
Detroit is scheduled to start rookie right-hander Alex Faedo (1-0 with a 3.60 ERA). He has never pitched against the Rays, but he's no stranger to the Tampa Bay area. Faedo grew up in Tampa and had a stellar high school career at Alonso High School.
-Field Level Media